On the news nearly every day you see something about apartment fires. For example, 30 people were just displaced after an apartment fire in Durham, North Carolina. The day before, four people were injured, and 80 lost their homes after a fire at a SeaTac apartment complex, where arson was suspected.
The risk of a fire is just one thing to consider when it comes to the safety of an apartment, though.
When you live in an apartment, you are at risk because of the people around you and how well the property manager maintains the building. Before you sign a lease, there are certain things you should ask and know about the safety of the building or complex.
With that in mind, know the following about the safety of an apartment before you sign an agreement or move in.
Since we already talked about fire safety above, that’s an excellent place to start when you’re comparing apartments. To check for fire safety, look for the following:
• Does the apartment have a sprinkler system? Sprinkler systems detect and respond to fires while they’re still small and manageable. With a sprinkler system, fires are often put out even before first responders arrive.
• Are there smoke alarms? Smoke alarms should be present in the hallways, each bedroom and the living areas. You will likely be responsible for checking and changing the batteries every month once you move in.
• Ask the building manager if there’s an evacuation plan and, if so, where it’s posted.
Make sure there’s a fire extinguisher on-site in each apartment and shared areas as well.
• Do the appliances work properly? Will the property manager check these before you move in? You want the appliances to be in good working order for convenience, but also, if they’re not, it’s a potential fire hazard.
Before you sign a lease for a new apartment, you’ll want to check the local crime in the neighborhood. You can go to online sites like SpotCrime and get a pretty detailed view of what crime is like in the community.
You should also talk to neighbors, if possible, and even local business owners.
Along with researching local crime, the things you want to consider as far as personal safety include:
• Building access: Who can access the building where you’re looking at apartments? Is there an open door where anyone can come into the building? If there’s a main entry door open to the outside, can only residents access it? What’s the lobby like? You want a secure property, but at the same time not so much so that it’ll make it hard for you to have visitors.
• Security: Is there on-site security? If there is, what are their duties? When do they work?
• Parking: If you’re looking at an apartment without onsite parking, but you have a car, what will you need to do to park, and does that mean your car could potentially be broken into? Will you feel safe walking from where you park to your apartment?
•Will the locks be changed? Before a new tenant moves in, the locks should always be changed, but you still need to double-check that this will happen with the property manager.
•Is there more than one lock on the door? One of the best types of locks for renters is a deadbolt that only locks from the inside.
•Check the windows because they are your second line of defense, aside from your doors. The windows should have locks that seem durable but easy to use, especially if you’re looking at a first-floor unit.
The lighting around the apartment building should be bright in the evenings. You might come to visit the apartment at night or the surrounding neighborhood to see what that’s like.
The walkways should be fully lit. Crimes are much more likely to happen in the cover of darkness.
The stairwells and areas around the elevator should be adequately lit too.
The general upkeep of an apartment building or complex can tell you more about safety. Does it look well-maintained or are there signs of wear and tear, such as peeling paint or lights that are burned out?
Do you see worn carpeting, broken fences, or landscaping that’s overgrown? These can all create safety risks or indicate potential safety risks.
After You Move In
If you go over all the above details and feel like you’ve selected a safe apartment building, there are still things you can do to make it even safer.
• If you’re allowed, consider upgrading your door locks. This is especially true if you don’t have a deadbolt. You might also want to see if you can add a reinforcement lock or a chain lock.
• Get a door security bar. Door jammers are easy to install, and they shouldn’t damage your door. If you have a balcony or patio with sliding doors, you can also add locks or jammers here.
• Keep your windows covered at night. If not, you can become an easier target for criminals who might take time to decide where they want to break into.
• Get to know your neighbors. If you know your neighbors, you’re all in a better position to be aware of what’s going on and keep each other updated on any suspicious activity.
You can also protect yourself with renters insurance, which is just one more layer of peace of mind you can give yourself.
Your landlord should have insurance that covers the building you live in. Then, the renters’ insurance should cover personal property in your home such as your furniture and clothing if you’re affected by a disaster or burglary. It can also cover things like medical costs if someone is visiting your home and gets hurt.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to be proactive about checking for safety features when you rent a new home. If there’s something you aren’t sure of, don’t be afraid to ask the landlord or property manager.